Study Guide

Captain Singleton

by Daniel Defoe

Captain Singleton Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of British Fiction)

Captain Bob Singleton was stolen as a child and reared by the gypsy who bought him. His first voyages, which began when he was age twelve, were to Newfoundland. On one of these voyages, the ship was captured by Turks. The Turkish vessel was subsequently captured by a Portuguese ship. After many months on shore, Singleton sailed as a cabin boy from Portugal on a voyage to Goa on the Malabar coast. At this time, Singleton began to learn the arts of navigation, and he also became an accomplished thief.

On the return voyage, a storm drove the ship to the shore of Madagascar. There Singleton enthusiastically joined a group of malcontents who plotted the harsh captain’s death, and he barely escaped hanging. However, he and twenty-six companions, with guns, tools, and provisions, were abandoned on shore. The natives were friendly and traded food with the sailors in exchange for metal charms cut out of beaten coins, as they had no knowledge of the value of currency. After exploring the island and the shore, the party was able to build a frigate and sail for the mainland. ..FT.-Landing at Mozambique, they decided to trek across the entire unknown continent to the Atlantic. They began the journey with buffaloes loaded with their provisions and with some sixty captured natives as guides and bearers. Singleton was by this time their appointed leader. At first, they marched only when travel by river was impossible. By hunting and foraging, they survived well enough until they came to the first desert. After nine days on the desert, they reached a lake, fished, and renewed their water supply. In sixteen days, they completed the desert crossing and entered another fertile region where travel was easy until they came to an impassable river—possibly the Nile.

When the chief native prisoner found gold in a small stream flowing into the main river, they panned as much as they could and agreed to share it equally. After a time, they built a garrisoned camp to avoid traveling in the rainy season. Protected by palisades from wild animals that roamed the region, the travelers remained there through the rainy season. On the subsequent march, they almost perished while crossing a further stretch of arid land. Beyond this desert, they obtained meat from a native village and soon moved into a mountainous region. While proceeding along the main valley, they were astonished to meet an Englishman who had been captured and robbed by the French. Having managed to escape inland, he had stayed in the country of friendly natives. He joined the travelers and told them where to find more gold. After two profitable years, they continued on to the Gold Coast. There the party disbanded, and Singleton sailed to England.

During the next two years in England, Singleton spent lavishly and was often cheated. When his money was gone, he sailed for Cadiz. Off the coast of Spain, he broke his journey at the instigation of a friend and went aboard a vessel whose crew had mutinied and taken possession of the ship; thus...

(The entire section is 1230 words.)